Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is a tactical role-playing game developed by Intelligent Systems, and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance handheld video game console in 2004 for Japan and 2005 in the West. It is the eighth entry in the Fire Emblem series, the second to be released outside Japan, and the third and final title to be developed for the Game Boy Advance after The Binding Blade and its prequel Fire Emblem.
Set in a separate continuity to earlier Fire Emblem titles, The Sacred Stones takes place on the fictional continent of Magvel, which is divided into five nations, each built around a magical stone said to be linked to the imprisonment of an ancient demon. When one of the five nations, the Grado Empire, invades its neighbors and begins destroying the stones, protagonists Eirika and Ephraim of the royal family of Renais set out to gather allies and halt Grado’s conquest, while also trying to uncover the reasons for the war. The gameplay is similar to previous Fire Emblem games, focusing on turn-based, tactical movement of units across a grid-based battlefield. Core features of the game include permanent death for characters defeated in battle and support conversations that grant advantages to certain units in battle.
The Sacred Stones began development alongside Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance as a side project, sharing much of its visual design and mechanics with Fire Emblem while incorporating elements from earlier entries such as Fire Emblem Gaiden. First announced in mid-2004, it was heavily promoted in Japan. When released, it sold over 230,000 units during 2004, with a further 90,000 being sold upon its North American debut. Reception was positive overall for its story and gameplay, although many critics cited it as being too similar to its predecessor. The Sacred Stones would be the last original handheld Fire Emblem title until Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS in 2012.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is a tactical role-playing game where players take the role of royal siblings Eirika and Ephraim during separate campaigns as they fight hostile forces invading their homeland, along with allies acquired on their journey. The world’s setting of Magvel is navigated using an overworld map, with routes going to different battle maps unlocked as the story progresses. In addition to story-related maps and dungeons, optional dungeons exist where chosen units can freely battle enemies, earning experience points. Each time a unit earns 100 experience points, that unit will gain a level and some of their stats will randomly increase. All characters can progress up to the 20-level cap. After a character has leveled up to 10, it has the option to be evolved using a class-specific item. A notable change from earlier games is that multiple options are available for class evolution: for instance, a Cavalier can evolve into either a Paladin or a Great Knight.
Battles use a turn-based system, with player, allied, and enemy units each taking turns to moving across a grid-based battlefield. Players can end their turn at any time, at which point the allied or enemy units can move. In each battle, the player is given command of a limited number of units and an objective to complete. Each unit’s character class determines their abilities, available weapons, strength, and range of movement. For example, mounted characters can move within the remainder of their movement range if they traded with or assisted another player unit in a shorter range. Other units have the ability to “rescue” units, lowering their own stats while removing the rescued unit from harm. Depending on a unit’s class and stats, items can be used heal or inflict status ailments such as “Poison” (a unit loses health each turn), “Berserk” (a unit attacks nearby units regardless of association), and immobilization ailments such as “Sleep” and “Petrify”.
A key element of battle is the Weapons Triangle, a rock-paper-scissors mechanic governing which type of weapon is more effective against another. Weapon types vary from close-range melee weapons like swords and axes to long-range weapons such as bows and magical staves. Various items gathered during missions, such as healing items and weapons, can be traded with other units within the army, or sold at vendors found on the world map. All items degrade with use and will break after a certain number of uses. Different weapons also feature a minimum skill level for use, requiring units to train with that weapon type to earn the proper rank, which ranges from E to A, and then to S, the highest rank. When a unit reaches S rank with one weapon, all other weapon skills are locked at A rank.
Certain units which share a particular affinity stat can benefit from mid-battle Support Conversations. After spending a certain number of turns within a few spaces of each other, they gain the option to engage in a Support Conversation when occupying adjacent spaces. Each pair of units can have up to three Support Conversations, with each successive Support granting both units better stat bonuses in future battles if they are within three spaces of each other.
When a unit falls in battle, they are subjected to permanent death, removing them from the rest of the campaign unless the player restarts the game from a previous save file. Some character deaths, such as those of Eirika and Ephraim, end the game and require a restart from a save file.
In addition to the single-player, the game includes a local multiplayer option where four players can take chosen units into the Link Arena. Victory goes to the last group standing or to the party with the highest score depending on the match conditions. Permanent death is disabled in the Link Arena.